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Methylation of Structured RNA by the m6A Writer METTL16 Is Essential for Mouse Embryonic Development.
Mol Cell, 2018 Sep 20; 71 (6): 986-1000.e11
Internal modification of RNAs with N-methyladenosine (mA) is a highly conserved means of gene expression control. While the METTL3/METTL14 heterodimer adds this mark on thousands of transcripts in a single-stranded context, the substrate requirements and physiological roles of the second mA writer METTL16 remain unknown. Here we describe the crystal structure of human METTL16 to reveal a methyltransferase domain furnished with an extra N-terminal module, which together form a deep-cut groove that is essential for RNA binding. When presented with a random pool of RNAs, METTL16 selects for methylation-structured RNAs where the critical adenosine is present in a bulge. Mouse 16-cell embryos lacking Mettl16 display reduced mRNA levels of its methylation target, the SAM synthetase Mat2a. The consequence is massive transcriptome dysregulation in ∼64-cell blastocysts that are unfit for further development. This highlights the role of an mA RNA methyltransferase in facilitating early development via regulation of SAM availability.
Exonuclease Domain-Containing 1 Enhances MIWI2 piRNA Biogenesis via Its Interaction with TDRD12.
Cell Rep, 2018 Sep 25; 24 (13): 3423-3432.e4
PIWI proteins and their associated small RNAs, called PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs), restrict transposon activity in animal gonads to ensure fertility. Distinct biogenesis pathways load piRNAs into the PIWI proteins MILI and MIWI2 in the mouse male embryonic germline. While most MILI piRNAs are derived via a slicer-independent pathway, MILI slicing loads MIWI2 with a series of phased piRNAs. Tudor domain-containing 12 (TDRD12) and its interaction partner Exonuclease domain-containing 1 (EXD1) are required for loading MIWI2, but only Tdrd12 is essential for fertility, leaving us with no explanation for the physiological role of Exd1. Using an artificial piRNA precursor, we demonstrate that MILI-triggered piRNA biogenesis is greatly reduced in the Exd1 mutant. The situation deteriorates in the sensitized Exd1 mutant (Exd1;Tdrd12), where diminished MIWI2 piRNA levels de-repress LINE1 retrotransposons, leading to infertility. Thus, EXD1 enhances MIWI2 piRNA biogenesis via a functional interaction with TDRD12.
Regulation of m6A Transcripts by the 3'→5' RNA Helicase YTHDC2 Is Essential for a Successful Meiotic Program in the Mammalian Germline.
Mol Cell, 2017 Oct 19; 68 (2): 374-387.e12
N-methyladenosine (mA) is an essential internal RNA modification that is critical for gene expression control in most organisms. Proteins with a YTH domain recognize mA marks and are mediators of molecular functions like RNA splicing, mRNA decay, and translation control. Here we demonstrate that YTH domain-containing 2 (YTHDC2) is an mA reader that is essential for male and female fertility in mice. High-throughput mapping of the mA transcriptome and expression analysis in the Yhtdc2 mutant testes reveal an upregulation of mA-enriched transcripts. Our biochemical studies indicate that YTHDC2 is an RNA-induced ATPase with a 3'→5' RNA helicase activity. Furthermore, YTHDC2 recruits the 5'→3' exoribonuclease XRN1 via Ankyrin repeats that are inserted in between the RecA modules of the RNA helicase domain. Our studies reveal a role for YTHDC2 in modulating the levels of mA-modified germline transcripts to maintain a gene expression program that is conducive for progression through meiosis.
Distinct Roles of RNA Helicases MVH and TDRD9 in PIWI Slicing-Triggered Mammalian piRNA Biogenesis and Function.
Dev Cell, 2017 Jun 19; 41 (6): 623-637.e9
Small RNAs called PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) act as an immune system to suppress transposable elements in the animal gonads. A poorly understood adaptive pathway links cytoplasmic slicing of target RNA by the PIWI protein MILI to loading of target-derived piRNAs into nuclear MIWI2. Here we demonstrate that MILI slicing generates a 16-nt by-product that is discarded and a pre-piRNA intermediate that is used for phased piRNA production. The ATPase activity of Mouse Vasa Homolog (MVH) is essential for processing the intermediate into piRNAs, ensuring transposon silencing and male fertility. The ATPase activity controls dissociation of an MVH complex containing PIWI proteins, piRNAs, and slicer products, allowing safe handover of the intermediate. In contrast, ATPase activity of TDRD9 is dispensable for piRNA biogenesis but is essential for transposon silencing and male fertility. Our work implicates distinct RNA helicases in specific steps along the nuclear piRNA pathway.
Characterization of the mammalian RNA exonuclease 5/NEF-sp as a testis-specific nuclear 3' → 5' exoribonuclease.
RNA, 2017 Sep; 23 (9): 1385-1392
Ribonucleases catalyze maturation of functional RNAs or mediate degradation of cellular transcripts, activities that are critical for gene expression control. Here we identify a previously uncharacterized mammalian nuclease family member NEF-sp (RNA exonuclease 5 [REXO5] or LOC81691) as a testis-specific factor. Recombinant human NEF-sp demonstrates a divalent metal ion-dependent 3' → 5' exoribonuclease activity. This activity is specific to single-stranded RNA substrates and is independent of their length. The presence of a 2'-O-methyl modification at the 3' end of the RNA substrate is inhibitory. Ectopically expressed NEF-sp localizes to the nucleolar/nuclear compartment in mammalian cell cultures and this is dependent on an amino-terminal nuclear localization signal. Finally, mice lacking NEF-sp are viable and display normal fertility, likely indicating overlapping functions with other nucleases. Taken together, our study provides the first biochemical and genetic exploration of the role of the NEF-sp exoribonuclease in the mammalian genome.
PIWI Slicing and EXD1 Drive Biogenesis of Nuclear piRNAs from Cytosolic Targets of the Mouse piRNA Pathway.
Mol Cell, 2016 Jan 7; 61 (1): 138-152
PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) guide PIWI proteins to suppress transposons in the cytoplasm and nucleus of animal germ cells, but how silencing in the two compartments is coordinated is not known. Here we demonstrate that endonucleolytic slicing of a transcript by the cytosolic mouse PIWI protein MILI acts as a trigger to initiate its further 5'→3' processing into non-overlapping fragments. These fragments accumulate as new piRNAs within both cytosolic MILI and the nuclear MIWI2. We also identify Exonuclease domain-containing 1 (EXD1) as a partner of the MIWI2 piRNA biogenesis factor TDRD12. EXD1 homodimers are inactive as a nuclease but function as an RNA adaptor within a PET (PIWI-EXD1-Tdrd12) complex. Loss of Exd1 reduces sequences generated by MILI slicing, impacts biogenesis of MIWI2 piRNAs, and de-represses LINE1 retrotransposons. Thus, piRNA biogenesis triggered by PIWI slicing, and promoted by EXD1, ensures that the same guides instruct PIWI proteins in the nucleus and cytoplasm.
PIWI Slicing and RNA Elements in Precursors Instruct Directional Primary piRNA Biogenesis.
Cell Rep, 2015 Jul 21; 12 (3): 418-428
PIWI proteins and PIWI-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) mediate repression of transposons in the animal gonads. Primary processing converts long single-stranded RNAs into ∼30-nt piRNAs, but their entry into the biogenesis pathway is unknown. Here, we demonstrate that an RNA element at the 5' end of a piRNA cluster—which we termed piRNA trigger sequence (PTS)—can induce primary processing of any downstream sequence. We propose that such signals are triggers for the generation of the original pool of piRNAs. We also demonstrate that endonucleolytic cleavage of a transcript by a cytosolic PIWI results in its entry into primary processing, which triggers the generation of non-overlapping, contiguous primary piRNAs in the 3' direction from the target transcript. These piRNAs are loaded into a nuclear PIWI, thereby linking cytoplasmic post-transcriptional silencing to nuclear transcriptional repression.
RNA clamping by Vasa assembles a piRNA amplifier complex on transposon transcripts.
Cell, 2014 Jun 19; 157 (7): 1698-1711
Germline-specific Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) protect animal genomes against transposons and are essential for fertility. piRNAs targeting active transposons are amplified by the ping-pong cycle, which couples Piwi endonucleolytic slicing of target RNAs to biogenesis of new piRNAs. Here, we describe the identification of a transient Amplifier complex that mediates biogenesis of secondary piRNAs in insect cells. Amplifier is nucleated by the DEAD box RNA helicase Vasa and contains the two Piwi proteins participating in the ping-pong loop, the Tudor protein Qin/Kumo and antisense piRNA guides. These components assemble on the surface of Vasa's helicase domain, which functions as an RNA clamp to anchor Amplifier onto transposon transcripts. We show that ATP-dependent RNP remodeling by Vasa facilitates transfer of 5' sliced piRNA precursors between ping-pong partners, and loss of this activity causes sterility in Drosophila. Our results reveal the molecular basis for the small RNA amplification that confers adaptive immunity against transposons.
A role for Fkbp6 and the chaperone machinery in piRNA amplification and transposon silencing.
Mol Cell, 2012 Sep 28; 47 (6): 970-979
Epigenetic silencing of transposons by Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) constitutes an RNA-based genome defense mechanism. Piwi endonuclease action amplifies the piRNA pool by generating new piRNAs from target transcripts by a poorly understood mechanism. Here, we identified mouse Fkbp6 as a factor in this biogenesis pathway delivering piRNAs to the Piwi protein Miwi2. Mice lacking Fkbp6 derepress LINE1 (L1) retrotransposon and display reduced DNA methylation due to deficient nuclear accumulation of Miwi2. Like other cochaperones, Fkbp6 associates with the molecular chaperone Hsp90 via its tetratricopeptide repeat (TPR) domain. Inhibition of the ATP-dependent Hsp90 activity in an insect cell culture model results in the accumulation of short antisense RNAs in Piwi complexes. We identify these to be byproducts of piRNA amplification that accumulate only in nuage-localized Piwi proteins. We propose that the chaperone machinery normally ejects these inhibitory RNAs, allowing turnover of Piwi complexes for their continued participation in piRNA amplification.
Miwi catalysis is required for piRNA amplification-independent LINE1 transposon silencing.
Nature, 2011 Nov 27; 480 (7376): 264-267
Repetitive-element-derived Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) act together with Piwi proteins Mili (also known as Piwil2) and Miwi2 (also known as Piwil4) in a genome defence mechanism that initiates transposon silencing via DNA methylation in the mouse male embryonic germ line. This silencing depends on the participation of the Piwi proteins in a slicer-dependent piRNA amplification pathway and is essential for male fertility. A third Piwi family member, Miwi (also known as Piwil1), is expressed in specific postnatal germ cells and associates with a unique set of piRNAs of unknown function. Here we show that Miwi is a small RNA-guided RNase (slicer) that requires extensive complementarity for target cleavage in vitro. Disruption of its catalytic activity in mice by a single point mutation causes male infertility, and mutant germ cells show increased accumulation of LINE1 retrotransposon transcripts. We provide evidence for Miwi slicer activity directly cleaving transposon messenger RNAs, offering an explanation for the continued maintenance of repeat-derived piRNAs long after transposon silencing is established in germline stem cells. Furthermore, our study supports a slicer-dependent silencing mechanism that functions without piRNA amplification. Thus, Piwi proteins seem to act in a two-pronged mammalian transposon silencing strategy: one promotes transcriptional repression in the embryo, the other reinforces silencing at the post-transcriptional level after birth.
Loss of the Mili-interacting Tudor domain-containing protein-1 activates transposons and alters the Mili-associated small RNA profile.
Nat Struct Mol Biol, 2009 Jun; 16 (6): 639-646
Piwi proteins and their associated Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are implicated in transposon silencing in the mouse germ line. There is currently little information on additional proteins in the murine Piwi complex and how they might regulate the entry of transcripts that accumulate as piRNAs in the Piwi ribonucleoprotein (piRNP). We isolated Mili-containing complexes from adult mouse testes and identified Tudor domain-containing protein-1 (Tdrd1) as a factor specifically associated with the Mili piRNP throughout spermatogenesis. Complex formation is promoted by the recognition of symmetrically dimethylated arginines at the N terminus of Mili by the tudor domains of Tdrd1. Similar to a Mili mutant, mice lacking Tdrd1 show derepression of L1 transposons accompanied by a loss of DNA methylation at their regulatory elements and delocalization of Miwi2 from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. Finally, we show that Mili piRNPs devoid of Tdrd1 accept the entry of abundant cellular transcripts into the piRNA pathway and accumulate piRNAs with a profile that is drastically different from that of the wild type. Our data suggest that Tdrd1 ensures the entry of correct transcripts into the normal piRNA pool.